The Department of Labour is working on a new immigration model and technology which it hopes will answer criticisms of its immigration processes levelled last week by the Auditor-General.
A “single client view” information system is a key part of the proposed response, the department says. It is currently developing a detailed business case for Government to deliver enhancements to its information and communication technology.
An Audit Office report released last week looked at two elements of the Department’s immigration’s checks: applications under the skilled migrants’ scheme and the United Nations refugee quota, to assess the processes used to establish identity. A key part of each process is checking identity information from applicants against information submitted previously and information held in other agencies.
This could be more easily done if all records were held electronically, says the Auditor-General, but some of the information is stored only in hard copy. The department’s main computer system for immigrant application processing, known simply as the Application Management System (AMS), is “not set up to hold all information about clients electronically”, the report says.
“It was noted by staff from throughout the Department that [electronic] access to identity information within or linked to AMS would improve standards for identity verification and management. This would enable staff to compare identity information in new applications and supporting travel documents with that provided for previous applications.
“Access to all facets of identity documentation electronically would improve identity management, assessment, and verification throughout the Department, and should be considered as part of [future] improvements to the computer system.”
The Department welcomes the report, says deputy secretary of workforce Mary Anne Thompson, and senior managers are preparing a work programme to enable the OAG’s recommendations to be prioritised.
She says “some improvements can be made within existing business processes and resources, and this [option] is currently being examined.”
In addition, however, the Department is working on a new immigration model, to give it smarter systems, to support its work and to allow meaningful gains in identity fraud management, she says.
On the question of records held partly in hard copy, Thompson says immigration offices around the world deal in both electronic and hard copy formats.
“For example, there will be an electronic case file made up for each immigration client, but that client might also send in numerous written documents such as medical assessments, copies of qualifications, supporting letters from an employer, etcetera.
“The Department doesn’t currently have an imaging and scanning capability to allow these paper-based documents to be incorporated into the client’s file in the Application Management System,” Thompson says. “Currently an electronic and a paper-based system operate in parallel.
“The proposal that all client data be captured electronically will be addressed as part of future ongoing development,” she adds.
The Auditor-General also has some harsh words for the case-management aspect of the fraud detection process — tracking the progress of investigation into cases where identity fraud is suspected. A purpose-built case management system, FITS, was developed for this purpose, but malfunctioned in March 2005 losing four months’ worth of backed-up data.
“The IT plan indicates that, since March 2005, the Fraud Branch has been running in a high-risk IT environment, with potential for the loss of data, inadequate backups, data corruption, inadvertent overwrites, or unauthorised changes,” the report says.
“The FITS system is still in use, and concerns expressed in the OAG report still exist,” Thompson says. “The department acknowledges that the Fraud Branch needs a robust case management system to track and report on fraud case work.”
According to the OAG report Fraud Branch staff noted that “better IT systems were needed to accurately track and report fraud investigation work. Much of this tracking is currently done on spreadsheets.”
The department’s fraud branch is “evaluating a proposal” to use AMS to record the progress of investigations, the report says.